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Nature versus nurture


Matthew Farley

Nature versus nurture

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“We collectively create our reality and out of that reality, we grow.” – Tony Crisp
AS THE DEBATE at the Alexandra School rages on and as I try to stay away from making any public comments on it, the role of the school and the value it adds to whom and what we become are my focus this week.
During the week just ended I had the distinct pleasure of  engaging a class at Erdiston Teachers’  College in the nature-versus-nurture debate. Of course, being an educational practitioner for close to four decades, this is certainly not the first time I have examined the issues on both sides of the debate.
The question that has never been resolved is whether whom and what we become is determined by the genes or whether it is due to the environment in which we are nurtured.
There are volumes of research on this issue.
From where did you get your green eyes? Was it from your father or your mother? What about your personality and your introverted tendencies? What about your talents?
Are they learned behaviours or are they part of your genetic endowment or part of your gene pool?
If your father is genius does it follow that you will be one too or is it equally likely that you could turnout to be a dunce?
Scientists have known for years that traits such as eye and hair colour are determined by specific genes encoded in each human cell. If I am gay, is my son likely to be? According to Geneology.about.com, the nature theory takes things a step further. It holds that more abstract traits like intelligence, personality, aggression and sexual orientation are also encoded in our DNA.
What about fraternal twins reared under the same conditions? How is it that they turn out different? Studies done on identical twins also show striking similarities when they are reared apart. What about non-twin brothers and sisters? Invariably, they do not emerge as clones of each; their individual differences loom large. So the question remains: how much of us comes from the environment and how much comes from our biological and genetic endowment?
Nature is defined as our genetic endowment, those factors passed on to us by heredity. Nurture relates to all those factors of the environment and experience that impact on who or what we become. The range is rather wide. Indeed, all sociological factors which enable development constitute the nurture component of our psyche.
These include parental upbringing, family background, native language, political affiliation, cultural mores, socio-economic factors, religion, sports and school experience.
There is considerable agreement among psychologists that nature and nurture must be harmonious to influence development, (Bee & Boyd, 2007, Berk 2006) with biological factors playing a stronger role in some aspects and environmental factors playing a role in others. (Slavin, 2009)
Now what are the implications of all this for teachers and schools? Do schools add value that determines our ultimate success or do they simply bring out what is already there? Do we take glory and credit for success that really are determined by our genes? Do schools or teachers create intelligence?
While the debate will never be resolved to the satisfaction of all, as educational practitioners who feel we have the future of our charges in the palm of our hands, there are a number of things that we must understand and accept.
Firstly, every child who sits before us should be seen as a potential genius. Schools and teachers must not deliver education sparingly or begrudgingly based on notions of parental, socio-economic considerations.
We must remember that there are two things that we do not choose. We do not choose who our parents are, neither do we choose where we live. Teachers therefore must not allow their knowledge of parental status or other considerations to cloud or prejudice the quality or equity of the education their provide.
Traditional approaches to education in Barbados saw the little black boys with “knotty” hair and “snotty” nose being treated less different from the “fair-skinned” girl with well-plaited hair. The bottom line is that every child, regardless of his socio-economic status, must be given a fair chance at developing his potential to the fullest.
In the final analysis teachers and schools must so structure their teacher-learning environment to bring out the best in each student. The interplay of the elements of nature and the factors of nurture will ultimately determine the realization of the goals of each students who comes under our charge.
This is a mammoth responsibility which cannot and should not be taken lightly, neither by teachers nor parents. Teachers and schools are important agents in the construction of the reality out of which our children grow and become.
• Matthew D. Farley is a secondary school principal, chairman of the National Forum on Education, and  social commentator. Email [email protected]

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